Square allows anyone, businesses or individuals, to accept credit cards as payments through a tablet or smart phone portal. The company, founded in 2009, now processes tens of billions of dollars in payments a year, according to Square spokeswoman Catherin Ferdon.
Here are four ways that Square is being used by businesses today, both large and small.
Accept Credit Cards Without Paying Credit Card Fees
Revolution Coffee Roasters started selling coffee — both bags of beans to brew and cups to drink — at farmers markets in the Philadelphia area in July, and the company used the Square reader to accept credit cards at those events.
When the small batch coffee roaster opened a cafe in Collingswood, N.J. in March, it decided to continue with Square to process credit cards at its brick-and-mortar location. "The percentage they charge and the absence of heavy monthly fees fit in with what we were doing," says Stephen McFadden, head roaster and shop manager.
Traditional credit card reading systems require signing contracts and then either renting or buying equipment. Then different fees are charged per what card is used, ranging from 1 to 5 percent plus a transaction fee, with Discover and American Express typically taking out a larger chunk than Visa and MasterCard.
Square charges a fixed 2.75 percent fee for each credit card sale, no matter what kind of major credit card is used. Deposits are made into businesses' bank accounts the next day.
The Square Reader, which is a small plastic piece that plugs into a smartphone, is free. In the café, Revolution Roasters uses the $99 Square Stand, which turns an iPad into a point of sale system. The stand physically holds the iPad that's being used as a cash register and also includes the actual card reader.
Businesses also have the option of adding more traditional hardware, including a receipt printer ($219), cash drawer ($229) and bar code scanner ($188).
Receive Instant Analytics of Sales, Customer Spending Habits
Whenever McFadden's having a good day, he'll get a call from his business partner to see what's going on. That's because Revolution Coffee Roasters also uses the Square Register, which offers instant analytics. It's also customizable to his business, with individual keys for different types of coffees along with sizes.
Square has always offered basic analytics, says Ferdon, adding what she describes as "robust reporting and a highly interactive analytics platform" in 2012. That means owners get real-time data about things like what's selling when and how customers are paying for their purchases. Data is then put into charts and graphs form so owners can assess trends and patterns.
Set Up an Online Business Portal
Revolution Coffee Roasters also sells coffee beans through the Square Market, which is an online shopping site that opened in June 2013. In addition to selling beans nationally through the Square Market, the company uses the service to collect payments for its weekly home deliveries.
The company opted for Square Market, says McFadden, because of convenience: "The automation was easy for us," he says, and setting up the site was free.
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In addition, payments taken through the Square Market are deposited in the same way as the money made from sales in the store. Businesses are charged the same 2.75 percent transaction fee as they are on in-person sales. Likewise, Square Market sales are tracked along with those made in the store, and "all order details are visible in the merchant's Square dashboard," Ferdon says.
Let Grab-and-go Customers Check Out Fast
Square has become popular with small businesses, but it's also used by big businesses. At Starbucks, for example, where patrons can pay — and, now, tip — using Square Wallet (which connects to their credit or debit card) on their Android and Apple phones.
In February, meanwhile Square and Whole Foods Market announced a new partnership that will allow customers to use the Square Wallet at specific venues inside Whole Foods stores — such as the deli, coffee bar, pizzeria and beer and wine bars.
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The Square system won't replace the traditional cash register system. Instead, Whole Food shoppers stopping in for something quick, like a cup of coffee, won't be stuck waiting to pay behind someone buying three carts' worth of groceries.
"Together with Square, we'll deliver options to expedite checkouts, and we look forward to developing new concepts to further simplify and improve grocery shopping," Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Marketing, says in a statement. "Square's forward thinking vision and technology makes them an ideal partner to create a convenient, responsive experience for our customers."
The program was rolled out instantly at dozens of Whole Foods locations, with the goal of reaching the hundreds. Ferdon declined to share the specific schedule.
Jen A. Miller is a freelance journalist from New Jersey who writes for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Runner's World, among others. She can be reached at www.jenamiller.com or on Twitter at @byJenAMiller. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.